You have too many friends—I promise you. Really. You’ve been collecting them for probably half a decade, like barnacles on the side of a slow boat, and they’re holding you back. They’re also threatening your privacy. End it.
You might have heard of Dunbar’s Number, a psychological “law” that human beings can’t maintain meaningful relationships with between 100 to 230 other people. Hahaha. Plenty of us have several hundreds, if not thousands of Facebook friends. The transformation of Facebook “friendship” into something abstract and laughable is well-trodden by now, and we’ve sort of started to just take it as a modern shrug. That’s just the way things are now—the joy of rediscovering people from high school has been replaced with the endless chore of clicking to hide all those assholes from high school you don’t want to read updates on anymore.
But they don’t have to be—all it takes is a little bloodshed. It’s simple: create a Facebook friend cap, start a social diet, and the entire thing will start to be a little meaningful again. Or at least a little less meaningless.
Pick a number.
It doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook. You have too many, whether it’s 400 or 2,000. There’s simply no possible way that you’re even distant acquaintances with these people, unless you’re the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Or a drug dealer. So, look at your friend count, round down, and saw off an extra hundred or so. Make it a clean, even number under 1,000. To start. Then start unfriending.
It might sound like a chore, but if you do just a few people a day it won’t feel like any work at all. Goodbye, plump RA. See you in another life, Volvo handjob. Thanks for not hiring me for that job, person with weird hyphenated last name. Just unfriending all of your friends’ exes will drop off a huge amount of dead weight. The Internet has trained you to fret over these fake connections, but these are almost always people with whom you have no actual contact, and even if you saw them again they probably wouldn’t notice that you weren’t Facebook friends anymore. The worst case scenario is a “Oh, weird, I thought we were already friends!” encounter, a nervous laugh, a re-friending, a re-unfriending, and life presses forward.
My number is 800.
Stick to your number.
This rule is ironclad. There are no exceptions. You have an even cap. You have concrete cap. This cap cannot be moved upward—only downward. And for every single new friend you get, you have to usher an old one out.
- New girlfriend? Take an ex out behind the shed. It’s time.
- New work homie? Kick out one from an old job you haven’t seen in years, and can’t squeeze any networking favors from.
- Meet someone at a bar, a friend’s friend? Are they really worth friending—and kicking out a current member of the roster for?
Now there are some stakes. You’re still dealing mostly with inflated pseudo-relation here, but at least you’re going to have to reflect for 30 seconds or so when you meet someone new. You’ll be forced to scroll through your list, deciding who’s worth keeping and who’s getting the boot. You’ll have to actually remember how and why you know these people. You’ll have to actually justify… to yourself… why you’re on Facebook to begin with, other than waking up every morning and being unable to fathom a past without it.
It will sting and feel good.
You’ll be safer.
You and all of the information about you has never been easier to find in the history of the social Internet thanks to the new Facebook search. This means you’re more exposed than you’ve ever been. This could be trouble. You’re probably not a self-advertising pants-shitter or rapist, but there just might be some things about yourself you don’t want to share with several thousand people on Facebook. Enforcing a hard social ceiling means you’ve got a much better grasp on who you’re connected to. After you get your privacy settings in line, this is the single most powerful thing you can do to protect yourself. Kill the spies, the gossips, the hangers-on, the people who will share that picture of you hanging out with the Zuckerbergs and betray your trust.
Stay strong. Never break the cap. And I promise, you won’t miss any of these losers.
User Manual is Gizmodo’s guide to etiquette. It appears as if by magic every Friday.